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<<5he Dego^ato^ and Fu^nishei^. 

phaltum, or bitumen, as it is variously called, has a strange fas- 
cination for most painters, and some consider that life without 
it — art life, at least — is not worth living, as it is said that no 
other brown, or combiDation of colours, at all resembles it. Now, 
a little asphaltum — unlike knowledge — is not a dangerous thing, 
but when used to excess is a most pernicious pigment, with 
a strong tendency to liquify, and run over like lava from Mount 
Vesuvius, as is too clearly demonstrated by the works of the 
Scottish genre painter Wilkie who by no means stands alone as an 
artist, who was led astray from the path of permanence by the 
too seductive allurements of a fair but fickle hue. It frequently 
happens, however, that the false one is rendered inconstant by 
the temptations placed in her way by the master. A pigment, 
though ever so trustworthy in itself, will in time discolor or 
grow black if diluted too strongly with oil that cannot be de- 
pended upon for its purity, and when a meretricious medium or 
a sickly siccatif is adopted in its place, no color worthy of the 
name can resist its baneful influence. Perhaps the worst mixture 
of the kind that ever disagreed with a painter's palette is the 
pasty decoction known as megilp. This obnoxious preparation, 
which in color and consistency is the exact counterpart of mar- 
malade jelly, is considered by some to be as delicious in its uses 
as salad dressing is to the other palate, though it has proved 
far more injurious in its effects than the spurious imitations of 
oil and vinegar just referred to. Megilp is a comparatively mod- 
ern invention, quite unknown to the old masters, and since its 
appearance more harm has been done to art than by any oil or 
hue that can be mentioned. We have only to glance at the can- 
vases of the last twenty or even fifteen years to be convinced 
that the coldness, dulnes, and lack of luminosity observable in 
a vast number of the productions painted within that period are 
in a great measure due to the employment of megilp or some 
such vehicle. Still, many artists continue to ust the dangerous 
compound, as it is found convenient and pleasant to work with, 
and in these money-making progressive days anything which 
facilitates or assists ones labors usually meets with public favor. 
Fortunately for picture owners and for the undying reputation 
of our leading limners, megilp with its innumerable varieties is 
wholly ignored. The late Frank Holl used as a vehicle amber 
varnish, diluted, may be, with a little nut or purified linseed oil 
to make it run more freely, and though amber varnish is found 
difficult to work with, it has proved to be the only durable 
preparation of the kind extant. It was greatly in vogue among 
the old masters — more particularly those belonging to the Dutch 
and Flemish schools — and the permanence and brilliance of their 
colors are, no doubt, mainly derived from the excellence of such 
mediums. It is also supposed to have formed the valuable in- 
gredient of the medium used by the Van Eycks. Mr. Herkomer, 
Mr. Sant, Mr. William Hughes and other prominent painters, 
"swear by amber varnish," and the freshness of their produc- 
tions of several years ago sufficiently testify to the merits of that 
valuable vehicle, as also of the highly-refined Russian linseed oil 
with which amber varnish is sometimes mixed. The medium 
used by Reubens appears to have been the happy one, in every 
sense of the expression, but it remains to be seen whether the 
French preparation, just introduced under the title of " Reubens 1 
varnish-paste," is in all respects the same as that employed by the 
great Flemish painter. Doubtless, Messrs. Abney and Russell will 
enlighten us upon this subject as they also will respecting the vir- 
tues of many other mediums recommended by our lead hog color- 
men, together with poppy oil, copal, mastic varnish, and recti- 
fied spirits of turpentine. We may likewise hear something to 
the advantage of a new valuable and very beautiful pigment be- 
longing to the chrome family, which has just been issued under 
the fanciful title of " Aurora yellow," and a pale variety of co- 
balt yellow, shortly to be introduced under the equally attract- 
ive name of "Primrose aureolin." A word or two may be sim- 
ilarly looked for with respect to canvases in connection with 
their priming, or preparation, and artists will be reminded that 
an old and well seasoned cloth is far preferable, in point of dura- 
bility, to one that has only recently been prepared, and that it, 
moreover, takes more kindly to the brush. Much may in this 
way be learned that will prove of the utmost service alike to 
painters with an eye to posterity, and of value to art collectors 
who desire to have their treasures handed down to an apprecia- 
tive posterity. It is, perhaps, too much to expect that an artist 
will meekly submit to a cross examination respecting the perma- 
nence of his productions, or kindly consent to paint only with the 
materials prescribed by the patron. Imagine, for example, Sir 
John Millais being required to sign an agreement to the effect 
that the portrait just ordered shall be painted without mediums 
of any kind, and upon a particular sort of canvas; or the indig 
nation of Mr. Alma-Tadema when asked to take "something off" 
in consideration of his lavish employment of an inferior Naples 
yellow, or a meretricious madder! But after the revelations 
shortly to be made public by our experts, it is quite possible that 
intending purchasers will find it necessary to choose a work of 
art as the vicar chose a wife, "not for a fine glossy surface, but 
for such qualities as would wear well." While alive to this cir- 
cumstance, artists will for the future take care to avoid the fly- 

ing color of the paint-box, if only because these may interfer e 
with the "flying colors" which success in all things usually 
bring about. 


ITH all our talk about it, the very meaning of 
the words 'decorative art' remains confused and 
undecided. I want, if possible, to settle this 
point for you to night, and to show you that 
the principles on which you must work are 
likely to be false, in proportion as they are 
narrow; true only as they are founded on a 
perception of a connection of all branches of 
art with each other. Observe then first — the 
only essential distinction between decorative and other art is be- 
ing fitted for a fixed place ; and in that place, related, either in 
subordination or in command, to the effect of other pieces of 
art. And all the greatest art which the world has produced is 
thus fitted for a place, and subordinated to a purpose. There is 
no existing highest-order art but is decorative. The best sculpture 
yet produced has been the decoration of a temple front ; the best 
painting, the decoration of a room ; Raphael's best doing is 
merely the wall coloring of a suite of apartments in the Vatican, 
and his cartoons were made for tapestries ; Corregio's best doing 
is the decoration of two small church cupolas at Parma ; Michael 
Angelo's, of a ceiling in the Pope's private chapel ; Tintoret's, of 
a ceiling and side wall belonging to a charitable society at Ven- 
ice ; while Titian and Veronese threw out their noblest thoughts, 
not even on the inside, but on the outside of the common brick 
and plaster walls of Venice. 

Get rid, then, at once, of any idea of decorative art being a 
degraded or a separate kind of art. Its nature or essence is 
simply its being fitted for a definite place; and in that place, 
forming part of a great and harmonious whole, in companionship 
with other art; and so far from this being a degradation to it — 
so far from decorative art being inferior to other art because it 
is fixed to a spot — on the whole it may be considered as rather 
a piece of degradation that it should be portable. Portable art 
—independent of all place — is for the most part ignoble art. 
Your little Dutch landscape, which you put over your sideboard 
to-day, and between the windows to-morrow, is a far more con- 
temptible piece of work than the extents of field and forest with 
which Benozzo has made green and beautiful the once melan- 
choly Arcade of the Campo Santo at Pisa; and the wild boar of 
silver which you use for a seal, or lock into a velvet case, is little 
likely to be so noble a beast as the bronze boar who foams forth 
the fountain from under his tusks in the market-place at Flor- 
ence. It is, indeed, possible that the portable picture or image 
may be first rate of its kind, but it is not first-rate because it is 
portable ; nor are Titian's frescoes less than first-rate because 
they are fixed ; nay, very frequently the highest compliment you 
can pay to a cabinet picture is to say: "It is as grand as a 

Keeping, then, this fact fixed in our minds — that all art may 
be decorative, and that the greatest art yet produced has been 
decorative— we may proceed to distinguish the orders and digni- 
ties of decorative art thus :— 

I.— The first order of it is that which is meant for places 
where it cannot be disturbed or injured, and where it can be per- 
fectly seen ; and then the main parts of it should be — and have 
always been made, by the great masters— as perfect and full of 
nature as possible. 

You will every day hear it absurdly said that room deco- 
ration should be by flat patterns and by dead colors— by con- 
ventional monotones and I know not what. Now, just be as- 
sured of this — nobody ever used conventional art to decorate 
with, when he could do anything better, and knew that what 
he did would be safe. Nay, a great painter will always give 
you the natural art, safe or not. Correggio gets a commission 
to paint a room on the ground floor of a palace at Parma. Any 
of our people— bred on fine modern principles — would have cov- 
ered it with a diaper, or with stripes or flourishes, or mosaic 
patterns. Not so Correggio : he paints a thick trellis of vine 
leaves, with oval openings, and lovely children leaping through 
them into the room ; and lovely children, depend upon it, are 
rather more desirable decorations than diaper, if you can do 
them, but they are not quite so easily done. In like manner 
Tintoret has to paint the whole end of the Council Hall at Ven- 
ice. An orthodox decorator would have set himself to make the 
wall look like a wall. Tintoret thinks it would be rather bet- 
ter, if he can manage it, to make it look a little like Paradise ; 
—stretches his canvas right over the wall, and his clouds right 
over his canvas; brings the light through his clouds— all blue 
and clear— zodiac beyond zodiac; rolls away the vaprous flood 
from under the feet of the saints, leaving them at last in infini- 
tudes of light,— un-orthodox in the last degree, but, on the whole, 


She bEGO^Anio^ and Fu^nishS^. 

pleasant. And so in all other cases whatever, the greatest dec* 
orative art is wholly unconventional — downright pure, good 
painting and sculpture, but always fitted for its place ; and sub- 
ordinated to the purpose it has to serve in that place. 

II.— But if art is to be placed where it is liable to injury, 
to wear and tear, or to alteration of its form, as, for instance, 
on domestic utensils and armor, and weapons, and dress; in which 
either the ornament will be worn out by the usage of the thing, 
or will be cast into altered shape by the play of its folds; then 
it is wrong to put beautiful and perfect art to such uses, and 
you want forms of inferior art, such as will be by their sim- 
plicity less liable to injury ; or, by reason, of their complexity 
and continuousness may show to advantage, however distorted, 
by the folds they are cast into. 

And thus arise the various forms of inferior decorative art, 
respecting which the general law is, that the lower the place 
and office of a thing, the less of natural or perfect form you 
should have in it ; a zigzag or a checquer is thus a better because 
a more consistent ornament for a cup or platter than a landscape 
or portrait is ; hence the general definition of the true forms of con- 
ventional ornament is, that they consist in the bestowal of as much 
beauty on the object as shall be consistent with its material, its 
place and its office. 

The fact is, that all good subordinate forms of ornamention 
ever yet existent in the world have been inventnd, and others 
as beautiful can only be invented, by men primarily exercised 
in carving and drawing the human figure. I will not repeat 
here what I have already twice insisted upon, to the students of 
London and Manchester, respecting the degradation of temper 
and intellect which follows the pursuit of art without reference 
to natural form, as among the Asiatics; here, I will only tres- 
pass on your patience so far as to mark the inseparable connec-. 
tion between figure-drawing and good ornanental work in the 
great European schools, and all that are connected with them. 
Tell me, then, first of all, what ornamental work is generally 
put before our students as the type of decorative perfection? 
Raphael's arabesques, are they not ? Well, Raphael knew a little 
about the figure, I suppose, before he drew them. I do not say 
that I like those arabesques, but there are certain qualities in 
them which are inimitable by modern designers ; and those qual- 
ities are just the fruits of the master's figure study. What is 
given to the student next to Raphael's work ? Cinque-cento or- 
nament generally. Well, Cinque-cento generally, with its birds, 
and cherubs, and wreathed foliage, and clustered fruit, was the 
amusement of men who habitually and easily carved the figure 
or painted it. All the truly fine specimens of it have, figures or 
animals as the main parts of the design. 

"Nay, but," some anciently or medievally minded person 
will exclaim, "we don't want to study Cinque-cento. We want 
severer, purer conventionalism." What will you have ? Egyptian 
ornament ? Why, the whole mass of it is made up of multitudi- 
nous human figures in every kind of action — and magnificent ac- 
tion ; their kings drawing their bows in their chariots, their 
sheaves of arrows rattling at their shoulders; the slain falling 
under them as before a pestilence ; their captives driven before 
them in astonished troops ; and do you expect to imitate Egyp- 
tian ornament without knowing how to draw the figure ? Nay, 
but you will take Christian ornament, purest, mediaeval Christian 
—thirteenth century. Yes ; and do you suppose you will find 
the Christian less human ? The least natural and most purely 
conventional ornament of the Gothic schools is that of their 
painted glass ; and do you suppose painted glass, in the fine 
times was ever wrought without figures? We have got in the 
way, among our modern wretchednesses, of trying to make win- 
dows of leaf diapers, and of strips of twisted red and yellow 
bands, looking like the patterns of currant jelly on the tops of 
Christmas cakes ; but every casement of old glass contained a 
saint's history. The windows of Bourges, Chartres, or Rouen have 
ten, fifteen, or twenty medallions in each, and each medallion 
contains two figures at least, often six or seven, representing 
every event of interest in the history of the saint whose life is in 
question. Nay, but, you say those, figures are rude and quaint, 
and ought not to be imitated. Why, so is the leafage, rude and 
quaint, and yet you imitate that. The colored border pattern 
of geranium or ivy leaf is not one whit better drawn, or more 
like geranium and ivy, than the figures are like figures ; but you 
call the geranium leaf idealised— why dont you call the figures so ? 
The fact is, neither are idealized, but both are conventionalised 
on the same principles and in the same way ; and if you want to 
learn how to treat the leafage, the only way is to learn first how 
to treat the figure, and you may soon test your powers in this 
respect. Those old workmen were not afraid of the most fam- 
iliar subjects. The windows of Chartres were presented, by the 
trades of the town, and at the bottom of each window is a xep- 
resentation of the proceedings of the tradesmen at the business 
which enabled them to pay for the window. These are smiths 
at the forge, curriers at their hides, tanners looking into their 
pits, mercers selling goods over the counter— all made into beau- 
tiful medallions. Therefore, whenever you want to know whether 
you have got any real power of composition or adaption in or- 

nament, don't be content with sticking leaves together by the 
ends,— anybody can do that— but try to conventionalise a butch- 
er's or a greengrocer's with Saturday night customers buying 
cabbage and beef. That will tell you if you can design or not. 

If you learn only to draw a leaf well, you are taught in some 
of our schools to turn it the other way, opposite to itself; and 
the two leaves set opposite are called a "design," and thus it is 
supposed possible to produce ornamentation, though you have ■'• 
no more brains than a looking glass or a kaleidoscope has. But 
if once you learn to draw the human -figure, you will find that 
knocking two men's heads together does not necessarily constitute 
a good design, nay, that it makes a bad design, or no design at 
all ; and you will see at once that to arrange a group of two or 
more figures, you must, though perhaps it may be desirable to 
balance or oppose them, at the same time vary their attitudes, 
and make one, not the reverse of the other but companion of 
the other. 


ON page 13 will be found four novel designs for window 
draperies originating with the London Cabinet Maker. 
Number 1, the upper left hand, is simple in arrangement, 
and is supposed to represent a number of triangular pieces of 
tapestry or silk overlapping one another. A pretty effect might 
be obtained by alternating a different kind of material ; as, for 
instant, one lappet should be silk and the next one plush, and 
so on to the completion of the whole. The fringed swags and 
silk-covered spindle lattice give a finish to the general character 
of the valance. Drapery No. 2, on the right of No. 1, suggests 
a rather more fanciful style of treatment. The idea of confin- 
ing the festoon drapery, at intervals, by means of silk bands or 
gimp forms an original feature. The plaited semicircular lap- 
pet, secured by radiated- silk tabs, is most unusual in conception, 
and presents a very busy appearance. The style of No. 3 is 
perhaps more in keeping with the latest fashion in window 
drapery, which tends rather more towards broad curtain folds, 
negligently arranged, than the conventional valance. The last 
drapery on the page is designed on somewhat uncommon lines, 
and displays a variety of character which forms a useful depar- 
ture from the ordinary style of thing. 

Mrs. M. G. Van Rensselaer, author of the Cathedral articles in the 
Century ^ and an authority on needlework as well as architecture, has started the 
fashion of resurrecting the funny old samplers of fifty years ago by the offer of 
a pair of silver-handled scissors for the best sampler worked during the Summer 
and entered at the Long Island Fair, which takes place this month at Hemp- 
stead. Every one has seen them, faded things of corn silk canvas, carefully 
worked in cross-stitch with the alphabet in various styles of lettering, signed at 
the end u Mary Jane Ruggles, 1820, aged 12," in the same rather wabbly cross- 
stitches and framed in a little band of gilt under glass by the proud parent of: 
the accomplished Mary Jane. Sometimes, in peculiarly clever families, a basket 
of very queerly shaped and colored wool or silk flowers surmounted the alpha- 
bet, and then the gilt frame was wider and more resplendent. These vanished 
into garrets long ago, but now every one is searching in old trunks and dusty 
boxes for their forebears' handiwork and restoring them to the place on the wall 
from which they were banished. Not only so, but new ones are being made, - 
and modern mothers are setting their little girls to learn needlework and their 
letters at the same time by reproducing these masterpieces of their grand- 

The Decorator and Furnisher, which occupies a unique field for maga- 
zine work, publishes much interesting matter in its September number. Another 
installment of the valuable "Materiaux et Documents D' Architecture" is given, 
the publication of which insures the pubscriptions of several hundred architects, 
who look to the work for helpful suggestions.— Buffalo Courier.